From the February 2016 issue

Getting Kids to Establish Heart Healthy Habits

February may be American Heart Month, but taking care of our family's hearts is important all year long. Here's how you and your kids can make healthy changes to benefit their little tickers.

February is an important month for hearts – and not just because of Valentine’s Day. This month is National Heart Month, designed to remind Americans just how important the health of our hearts are.

So far, though, we aren’t doing a great job caring for one of our body’s most vital organs. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in this country. That’s 1 in every 4 deaths.

But all that can change – starting with kids today. The sooner they start establishing heart healthy habits the better off they may be in adulthood. Dr. Daniel Turner, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, suggests a few simple ways to make a change.

1. Know what you’re eating. You’d be surprised what can be lurking in your everyday snacks. That’s why it’s good to be aware of what ingredients are used in food items. “Looking at labels is important, especially serving sizes and how much sugar or corn syrup is in something,” Turner says. “You don’t have to be crazy about it, but starting to get an idea of what you are eating is important.”

2. Change up your diet. Eating habits established early on are harder to change, so we should use this to our advantage by helping our kids make smart choices. “If you are used to eating more fruits and vegetables as a kid, you’re more likely to do so when you’re an adult,” Turner says. What you drink is also important. “Drinks can be an important source of ’empty’ calories. Sugar containing soda and fruit juices contain more calories than you might think. It’s important not to drink too much of these. Drinking more water is always good.”

3. Find ways to get active. Getting more activity can be as simple as making tiny tweaks to your daily choices, like “taking stairs instead of the elevator to get a little more exercise,” Turner says.

That also means taking a break from more non-active hobbies, like setting down the video game controller for some outside play. “I recommend exercising whenever you can – and that doesn’t have to mean going to the gym or running a marathon,” he notes. “It can be just as simple as riding your bike or doing something fun with your friends like playing hide and seek. Or, consider joining a community sports team through the parks and recreation department just for fun.”

4. Practice what you preach. Remember what you just read above? That applies to you, too, mom and dad – though Turner recognizes it’s not easy. “Parents are the biggest role models that kids have, so if you don’t want your kid to have Coke, then you shouldn’t be drinking one either,” he says.

To learn more about Children’s Hospital of Michigan’s pediatric cardiology department, visit childrensdmc.org.

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